Since September 2009, the project has been focused on developing a ‘Footprint Family’ of indicators: Ecological, Carbon and Water footprint to track the multiple and often hidden demands that human consumption makes on the planet’s resources and to measure their impacts on the planet.
The ‘Footprint Family’ indicators will allow decision-makers to track and measure the impact of consumption on the earth’s natural resources and ecological assets. With this information they can develop an informed response to issues such as limits to natural resource and freshwater consumption, and sustainable use of natural capital across the globe.
The Ecological Footprint for a particular population is defined as; “the total area of productive land and water ecosystems required to produce the resources that the population consumes and assimilate the wastes that production produces, wherever on Earth that land and water may be located” (Rees, 2000).
We are placing demands on nature to provide us with food, materials, energy and waste absorption at a faster rate than they can be provided or renewed. Ecological footprinting allows us to quantify how far the world’s resources are being used against how many are available which is invaluable information for those attempting to design policy for a sustainable future.
The Carbon Footprint indicator allows for a comprehensive assessment of human contribution to climate change which is consistent with standards of economic and environmental accounting. It offers an alternative angle for international policy on climate change as it complements the territorial-based approach used by the UNFCCC.
With a better understanding of countries’ responsibility it could facilitate international cooperation and partnerships between developing and developed countries.
The Water Footprint of a country is the total volume of freshwater consumed and polluted for the production of goods and services consumed by citizens in the country (Hoekstra et al 2009). Consumption is defined as water permanently removed from a water body in a catchment, which happens when water evaporates, returns to another catchment area or the sea or is incorporated into a product.
The pollution element of the footprint is the water required to dilute pollution so it can be returned to the environment. The water footprint of a country includes the internal footprint and the external footprint:
- The Internal Footprint is the use of domestic water to produce goods and services consumed within the country (excluding water used to produce goods that are exported).
- The External Footprint is the use of water in other nations to produce goods and services consumed by the country.
This gives us a complete picture of how national consumption translates to water use not only in the country of interest but also abroad, which allows us to analyse water dependency and sustainability of imports.